One passage of Scripture familiar to many of us is the Lord's Prayer. As a child, you may have memorized it. You've probably read it over the years. It has been immortalized in beautiful, moving hymns and other musical works. But how often do we consider the many shades and levels of meaning given to us in these few verses?
In reviewing this section of Scripture recently, I was again inspired by Christ's instruction. In Luke's account, the Gospel writer tells us that Christ had been off by Himself praying. When He finished, one of the disciples came to Him and said, "Lord, teach us to pray ..." (Luke 11:1).
This disciple was not a man who was unfamiliar with prayer, yet he recognized that learning to pray is a growth process, and he wanted to improve his understanding of prayer and the effectiveness of his entreaties to God.
In the related account in Matthew 6, Christ began by explaining that personal prayer is just that: It's private. It shouldn't be used to compete, to see who can sound the loftiest. It is personal communication with God.
"Our Father in heaven"
Jesus explained that prayer should be meaningful; a profusion of words is not what is important. Then He said: "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name" (verse 9).
The brief outline Jesus gave His disciples starts with "our Father"—not just my Father, but our Father. God, residing in heaven, is the Father of humankind—of all races, peoples and nations, of everyone who has ever lived.
It is impossible for me to begin a prayer with "our Father" and be entirely focused on myself. In praying, "our Father," we acknowledge that He is the progenitor of our families and friends and that He is the Father of anyone with whom we may have conflict. We are all children before God.
What do we envision when we think of God as our Father? My own father was a simple man from Missouri who never accomplished a great deal in this life as far as status or wealth is concerned. But he taught me through example the principles Christ taught in revealing the great God as our Father.
My dad demonstrated that a father is someone who loves, cares, helps, plays, laughs, sings, supports, teaches and, yes, reprimands when needed. Whether I succeeded or failed, my father was always there for me.
Sadly, some may have had a different experience. Perhaps you had an abusive or neglectful father. Maybe you were abandoned. A woman I know could not pray "Our Father" without breaking down in tears because her father had been so abusive. What a tragedy!
In time she came to realize that Christ didn't intend for our vision of God as our Father to be a negative one, so she asked Him to help her find a way to break through her painful emotional barrier.
She then remembered there had been one man in her childhood who had loved her and treated her with honor—an uncle. When she thought of the word uncle, she felt loved and cherished. "Uncle God" became a concept that helped her come to know the loving God Christ was introducing to her.
Though Christ acquaints us with and defines God as our Father, in the Lord's Prayer He spoke of His heavenly Father in different terms from those He would have used for an earthly parent. He made it clear that God is not a man, with the shortcomings of a human father. Christ proclaimed a Father who dwells on high, whose perspective is eternal and whose fatherhood is untainted by human weakness or selfishness.
He proclaimed a Father who is always there for us, never separated from us by time, distance or death. My own father has been dead for more than 30 years. Although I am now a grandmother, I still need the love and comfort of a father, and God always provides it. We're never too old to need a dad.
"Hallowed be Your name"
God's name stands for His character.
The name of God is hallowed, or holy, as Jesus acknowledged in His model prayer, because God Himself is holy. We hallow His name by recognizing His holy character and allowing Him to recreate that character in us.
This Father has never besmirched His name, which is worthy of infinite respect, honor and praise. God's name is to be borne with pride, not shame.
We can all hold our heads up high while bearing the name of this Father. We are the sons and daughters of God, and His name is now our own. Bearing that name is a privilege as well as a tremendous responsibility, and we should bear it well.
"Your kingdom come"
All around us is the evidence that human beings are unable to rule themselves. Problems exist at every level—among nations and cultures, even among families. Life can be discouraging. But, with these few words in the model prayer, Christ instructed us to focus on the reality of the coming time spoken of in Revelation 11:15, when "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever."
The coming of God's Kingdom is as good as done. Jesus Christ encouraged us to focus on the reality of that event. No matter what conditions have existed in any Christian's life at any point in history, there has always been the hope and promise in these words that there is coming a greater future, the Kingdom of God, for that follower of God.
Yet Christ didn't state it only as something to nebulously wish for. He left us the instruction to pray for it, yearn for it and realize its reality as a future event by focusing on it often in prayer.
"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"
As a Christian woman, I have come to realize that nothing touches my life unless it is allowed by God the Father.
That all things work for the good of those who obey God (Romans 8:28) is sometimes hard for us to accept. The difficult part for us is in yielding to God's perfect will in our lives and not demanding that our own will be done.
All too often, I see the actions and hear the words of mankind and forget that my life is in the hands of One far greater than I. A much greater power and purpose is at work —one that we, in our limited understanding, sometimes fail to comprehend.
Some years have been very painful, with trials and situations I never remotely expected. At times it has been difficult to say, "Your will be done." I didn't want things to be the way they were. But by asking that His will be done, I was always reminded that I also had to yield to it and accept the things I could not change.
"Give us this day our daily bread"
After focusing our hearts and minds on the much greater view, Christ instructs us to pray for ourselves—and others. He didn't say, "Give me my bread." In Christ's instructions to us about prayer, we're reminded to think beyond ourselves. In asking that our own needs be met, we should also be reminded of the needs of others and what we can do to help satisfy them.
Many of us are limited in our financial resources to help meet the needs of others, but we are never limited in our ability to pray for them. By praying for and about others and their needs, we place them in the hands of the One whose power is boundless, whose wisdom is infinite and whose wealth is endless. I am reminded of Paul's confidence and trust reflected in Philippians 4:19: "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
God doesn't always meet what I think my needs are—nor those of others—in the manner or time I think they should be met, but I have learned that I can trust Him completely to take care of all my real needs.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"
There is perhaps no verse in the Word of God that I've struggled with more than "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Yet, even in life's struggle, I've continued to learn. The parallel version of the model prayer in Luke 11 says, "Forgive us our sins ..." (verse 4). So it is interesting that the term debt is used here, because it is profoundly appropriate. We have all harmed others, in some way, by our words or actions—and thus owe them justice or restitution.
Yet all too often I find myself carrying around a ledger filled with the debts others owe me and fail to remember the ledgers that have my name in them. Before I can ask God to forgive the debts I owe to others, including to Him, I must erase the names in the ledger I carry. This doesn't mean God has erased those people's name from His ledger; that is a matter between Him and them. But I must let go of the debt and let it be solely between the other person and God.
Again, by instructing us to ask for forgiveness from "our debts," Christ reminds us to think bigger than ourselves, which is an enormous challenge for most people doing their best to obey God. The person I may struggle to forgive may be struggling with the same problem. By praying for him, I find it much easier to erase his name from my ledger.
"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one"
The Bible assures us that God does not tempt us (James 1:13). So why should we pray, "Do not lead us into temptation"?
The concept here is one of being led into a time of testing—of extreme difficulty— to determine where our allegiance and priorities ultimately lie.
When we drift from God, He may allow circumstances or our enemy, Satan the devil, to afflict us as a way to remind us of our need for Him. By praying, "Do not lead us into temptation"—or, as it could also be rendered, "into sore trial"—we are saying to God, "Help us to learn our lessons now so that we don't need to go through great distress and difficulty to learn them."
Of course, this requires that we be freed from the power and influence of Satan.
He constantly strives to prevent us from changing and conforming to God's ways.
So we pray to be delivered from him—from his deceptions and powerful urgings, which have shaped too much of our thinking in the past. And thankfully, through the power of God and remaining close to Him, we can break free.We are also reminded that we can experience now what will eventually be a gift to all humanity— deliverance from Satan's bondage.
"For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever"
At times I get weary, and thinking about the power and glory of God seems almost like a fairy tale, something too good to be true. In the wretchedness and degradation of Satan's world, we experience times when we struggle to see God's power and glory.
Yet every now and then something happens to give us a brief glimpse of it. It's like looking into a kaleidoscope and seeing something for an instant that is so beautiful it almost takes your breath away.
By instructing us to realize the power and glory of God, Christ reminds us to look into that kaleidoscope each day to see beyond the wretchedness of the here and now. He wants us to retain that vision, to see beyond this world, to live that vision of the future now and have faith in it. A better day is definitely coming!
So be it! Jesus ended this example prayer with a word that we so easily say and so seldom really think about. It is a formal ending, a completion. We have been privileged to appear before the throne of the great Creator of the universe, expressing what is in our hearts. We are able to say to our heavenly Father, "Let it be so." Amen. GN